Wichita State’s first losing baseball season since 1970 is complete, ended Friday night by one of the teams that replaced the Shockers as a Missouri Valley Conference power.
On Saturday, Bradley and No. 8 Missouri State will play in the MVC Tournament title game at Eck Stadium. MSU and No. 11 Dallas Baptist are locks for an NCAA regional and Bradley, with an RPI in the top 25, makes a strong case. It is a superb season for the MVC and the Shockers aren’t part of the fun.
Friday’s 6-4 loss to top-seeded Missouri State means WSU’s next job is clear. The Shockers (26-33) shouldn’t be watching other MVC schools — especially Bradley — gather on Monday for the NCAA selection show.
WSU’s 2-2 performance in the MVC Tournament, coupled with a 10-5 finish to the regular season, should provide hope that the worst is past under second-year coach Todd Butler. By late April, the Shockers became a solid offensive team with an improving pitching staff. Most games, they didn’t resemble the injury-plagued bunch that fell to 12 games under .500 in mid-April.
“We were a better team at the end,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “It’s a team I think we can build a foundation from.”
The Shockers, however, struggled against the top of the MVC, going 2-9 against MSU, Dallas Baptist and Bradley, including two losses to the Bears in the tournament.
On Friday, Missouri State defeated WSU for the fifth straight time this season. The Shockers took a 3-2 lead into the fifth inning before the Bears exhausted starter Jeb Bargfeldt and took a 4-3 lead.
WSU trailed 6-3 entering the ninth and made it interesting. Zach Reding’s pinch-hit double scored Mikel Mucha and put runners at second and third with one out. MSU closer Bryan Young struck out Tanner Kirk on a high fastball and froze Bob Arens with a curveball on the inner half of the plate to end the game.
“We needed a ball in the gap, a big hit right there,” Butler said. “We didn’t get it.”
An inside-the park home run by third baseman Dylan Becker, misplayed by WSU center fielder Daniel Kihle, gave the Bears a 5-3 lead and seemed to damage Shocker spirits. A bases-loaded walk delivered by reliever John Hayes handed the Bears a 6-3 lead in the seventh.
The Shockers stranded seven runners in the first four innings, never quite able to thoroughly pressure starter Jordan Knutson.
Overzealous running hurt the Shockers in the third. Sam Hilliard broke from second on Mucha’s single to center. He rounded third before seeing the stop sign from Butler. Missouri State first baseman Justin Paulsen alertly grabbed the throw from center field and hit Becker, who tagged Hilliard for the second out.
Instead of bases loaded and one out, WSU had two on and two out. A walk by Gunnar Troutwine loaded them, but Jordan Farris flew out to right field to end the threat.
The Bears took a 2-1 lead in the third, doing all the damage with two outs. Tate Matheny’s two-out double drove in Becker. Matheny scored from second on Eric Cheray’s single.
WSU regained the lead with its own two-out touch in the fourth. Ryan Tinkham’s two-out single drove in Trey Vickers and Kihle, who walked with two outs.
Troutwine gave WSU its first lead of the season against the Bears with a first-inning single, driving in Tinkham afer a two-out walk.
Bradley vs. Missouri State
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Eck Stadium
Records: BU 35-18, MSU 44-10